IRVING, Texas – Sure, it makes perfect sense for the NFL to protect the marquee quarterbacks amid the mayhem that invades their world on pretty much every snap.
By the same token, some of the roughing the passer cases that we’ve seen this season fuel the logic that the league’s instant replay system could use one more situation on its menu for further review.
It was a significant topic of interest as NFL owners met at a resort in suburban Dallas on Wednesday, one that figures to remain on the agenda to ponder during the offseason when matters of rule tweaks and replay adjustments are considered.
Overall, roughing the passer flags are down significantly – like 37% – since last season. Through 14 weeks in 2021, there were 121 such infractions. Through Monday night, there were 76 this season.
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But the optics persist.
Some of the calls have just been ridiculous, with a fresh Exhibit A provided in primetime on Sunday night when Miami Dolphins defensive end Jaelen Phillips was flagged for a takedown of Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert that appeared to be a textbook, non-violent sack to force a punt. Instead, officials ruled that Phillips landed with his body weight on Herbert, extending a third-quarter drive.
“The question becomes, ‘How do we be more consistent with this particular call?’ ” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, posited during a rundown of the competition issues shared with owners.
Vincent, who oversees the league’s officiating department, maintained that he didn’t agree with the penalty on Phillips.
“Didn’t like that call,” Vincent said.
In general, Vincent praised players and coaches for complying with the spirit of the roughing the passer rule. He said players and coaches have been “phenomenal” in that regard.
It just seems that in too many cases, some of the officials have been “phenomenal” in being too aggressive in throwing the flags.
Will instant replay provide the solution? Perhaps.
Vincent said that he could envision discussion about the possibility of adding roughing the passer as a reviewable play on the menu of instant replay rulings as an add-on connected to talk of instituting a rule. It would be similar to the college “targeting” rule that would result in an automatic disqualification for a player who forces a defenseless player out of the game.
“The officials, I must say, have been very consistent, and very accurate, on making that call,” Vincent said. “But they’re human. We will have an occasion where we don’t agree.”
Of course, the Dolphins could have used a replay review on the Phillips penalty on Sunday night, if such a rule existed. Now maybe he’ll catch a break on the fine schedule, while the officials draw flags on their weekly evaluation rap sheet.
Earlier this week, Phillips posted on Twitter, “Regardless of the outcome of the game, if I’m about to be fined $15,000 for ‘roughing the passer,’ then there needs to be some accountability and a review of what constitutes a penalty.”
Reviewing the roughing the passer penalty as part of the replay system would be a major step toward fairness for defensive players, who have traditionally been short-changed when it comes to the equity of rules.
Yet it would also be a tough sell, typical for any expansion of instant replay. As Vincent points out, there will be a question of whether a challenge would come from the coaches or whether the flag would be picked up after a review from replay officials at the NFL’s command center in New York – or from the sky judge official in a booth at game sites.
Also, the league loves the trend occurring with the average game time, down 2 minutes this season to 3 hours, 2 minutes, which is typically a result of fewer game stoppages and/or more efficient replay reviews.
Another concern: “Where does it end?” Vincent asked.
If it’s good to review roughing the passer and flagrant hits on defenseless players, then why not review pass interference?
All of that will enter into the debate.
Then there’s the traditional view of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. For years, Belichick has espoused the “review anything and everything” approach, although despite the coach’s credible reputation, it hasn’t gained much traction league-wide.
As for concerns of bogging down the game with such a liberal replay system, there are boundaries as coaches would still be limited to three replay challenges. If they choose to use the challenges for roughing the passer or pass interference rather than challenging a spot, so be it.
Then again, that just might make too much sense for the NFL.
Story Credit: usatoday.com